Despite having all the sexual charisma of a booger-eater at his bar mitzvah, Adam Sandler has starred in two of the most fondly remembered (if not actually good) romantic comedies of the past couple of decades: “The Wedding Singer” and “50 First Dates.”
Whatever endurance those two films have beyond their original purpose as money-printing machines can and should be credited to Drew Barrymore, whose sunny, bubbly, wildflowers-in-her-hair presence lent those pictures a sense of warmth and optimism sorely lacking in any other Sandler effort.
After the high-profile flops of “Jack and Jill” and “That’s My Boy,” the three-time Razzie winner is still piecing his box-office reputation back together. Thus we have a virtual freebie for Happy Madison: a third film with Barrymore, the farting angel whose earthy goofiness perfectly complements Sandler’s man-child puerility.
Though it’s every bit as formulaic as you’d expect it to be, “Blended” is much better than Barrymore and Sandler’s previous collaborations by leaps and bounds. That’s because Barrymore gets to do a lot more than bat her eyelashes and laugh at Sandler’s jokes here, resulting in a tonal tug-of-war between the his-and-her stories that expands the film in enjoyable ways, even if the work doesn’t quite feel cohesive.
Barrymore’s Lauren is a lot pricklier than the actress’ previous incarnations, a Kate Spade-clad divorced mother of two young boys (Braxton Beckham and Kyle Red Silverstein) who lashes out at the chaos of her domestic life by rigorously organizing other people’s closets for a living. She meets schlumpy widowed sports-store manager Jim (Sandler) on an ill-fated blind date at Hooter’s, wherein he chugs her beer while she’s in the bathroom looking for an excuse to go home.
A few weeks and a barely believable series of coincidences later, Lauren and her sons end up sharing a suite in a South African resort with Jim and his daughters: teenage Larry (short for Hilary, played by Bella Thorne), still-mourning Espn (named after the channel, played by Emma Fuhrmann), and blond moppet Lou (Alyvia Alyn Lind).
Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera’s script gives the big, dumb physical gags to Sandler and the boys, but mines some real poignancy, even some melancholy, from Lauren’s kindly introduction to Larry into the ways of girlhood and from Espn’s insistence that she can see her dead mother everywhere. Lauren’s foul-mouthed BFF-ship with her proudly loud gal pal Jen (an underused Wendi McLendon-Covey) recall the best parts of “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat.”
But “Blended” director Frank Coraci, a Happy Madison vet, is too much of a company man to elevate this passion-phobic rom-com beyond something more than an above-average Sandler production. Every expectation of a gross-out surprise between a pair of lovers is immediately fulfilled; the film shrinks from intimacy like a snail avoiding human touch.
Barrymore is as luminous as ever, but Sandler hides in his own movie under muumuu-like T-shirts and distracted grimaces. The two screen pros still have barrelfuls of chemistry, but it’s difficult to root for love between a sloth and a butterfly.
Then there’s the uncomfortable and constant slur-slinging against supposedly ugly and/or flat-chested women. Sandler might claim he’s an equal-opportunity insulter — Larry’s skinny romantic interest (Zak Henri) receives more than his share of abuse, too — but the chauvinistic cracks go a long way in undoing the strong moments of female solidarity scattered throughout the movie.
“Blended” features too many great performances to earn Sandler a fourth Razzie win, or even a tenth Razzie nod, but he won’t have to wait long for his next Golden Raspberry if he can’t think of anything funnier than playground insults for his next film.